Saturday, August 07, 2004

I was very much troubled last week. Troubled at how I am being treated as a woman in this country. A woman must not be seen. She must be veiled from top to bottom and what you see of her is a black blob. A woman must also not be heard. Never mind if she is choking under that veil, she must thus remain silent and lest she is silenced.

Perhaps more troubling was how it was delivered to me, “Kau jangan kau! Kat sini kan pompuan tak boleh bising!! Suara tu pada dia orang aurat! Kau tak boleh cakap kuat kuat!!” (The women here are hardly heard when in public places!)

Is it not enough that women are subjugated in her position in her society, she has limited work which she can apply to, she is not allowed to drive cars (in case she has the power and liberty to meet men who are not in her family), she cannot be seen and thus has to be veiled and now she cannot be heard! Women might as well not exist!

So I read the article below with interest and wonders, how many percent of the women population holds the same views as the writer.

Please Saudi Women: Don’t Weaken Our Case!

Suraya Al-Shehry, Arab News

For centuries the Arab woman has been burdened by three problems responsible for her backwardness: ignorance, poverty and disease. In addition, there was also the traditional eastern male viewpoint that the woman was nothing more than a wife and his private possession.

Despite her efforts in playing her role in life — publicly and privately — and her demand that her rights be recognized, her value has not been defined and she remains an entity with no function other than reproduction and taking care of husband and children.

Her opportunity to present her views and perspectives has not really entered the Arab man’s mentality even though he claims otherwise. Just as the mother is the prime mediator in bringing up children and teaching them, she is also the one most capable of assembling and balancing her family and professional life at a level that may surprise her husband.

What most women want is for men to recognize and accept her abilities so that she can prove in practice and in theory that her place cannot be taken or occupied by others. As the literary figure and philosopher, Al-Aqqad, observed, “The aim of a girl’s upbringing and education cannot be limited to her function as a wife unless we teach boys only how to be a husband.”

The focus on these matters issue lead me to talk about Saudi Arabia since it is a country that is still taking steps related to women’s full participation in society. The Saudi woman has been confined into a state of illusion that has kept her in an isolated tower at a time when there has been a public dialogue announcing the rights of women which religion has given her.

For if the woman has been able to go beyond her own front door, she then has to face another social convention that sees her as less than a man. Her name is not mentioned in front of people and any male in her company feels awkward in introducing her, preferring to introduce her as “family.” A man means politics, economy and sociology while a woman is equivalent to marriage, children and divorce.

If a man were asked to compare how women were during the Prophet Mohammad’s (peace be upon him) time and how they are treated today, he answers with ‘Look how righteous they were and look at them today! This is despite the fact the fact that the Prophet Mohammad said that were he to prefer one sex to the other, the preference would be for women.

I ask men what they make of that. Where is justice? We live in a society whose constitution is God’s Shariah and the Sunnah of His Prophet, whose roots are tribal. And if a woman is unable to move beyond the man’s conception of her, how can she participate in development? Or feel what her husband experiences beyond the walls of their house? How are her children to benefit fully from her education and experience?
For a woman to focus on educating herself and to take part in her country’s economy, society and its policy is better for her and more noble for her country than for her to be effectively imprisoned in a box with ‘Fragile’ written on it. And for that box to be easily and properly opened is better than to have it opened by force.

The first step for women in finding their roles is for them to be worthy of what they deserve. For if we women want to struggle for civil and political rights — both those which we have and those which we lack — then we must improve ourselves and reinforce ourselves, feel our weaknesses, go forward and stand our ground. We must make decisions without hesitancy and bear the consequences

We must bear much and must not live hostage to our emotions; neither must we lose the kindness and gentleness which distinguish us from the other sex. What one woman may be willing to live with, regardless of how bad the situation is, is not necessarily the same for all other women. We are opposed by systems from which those who would deny us our rights draw their strength; they are driven by these systems to fight and resist. They do not tire of causing fear of any new development, comparing it to the decadent West, colonialism and even a lack of faith.

They do not care for our homeland or its welfare. They silence those who use religion as a basis for protest. There are no stronger entities for us women than our country and our religion and we must use both for our benefit and for the benefit of all. It is not sufficient that love of country be no more than words or for us to cover our heads modestly while remaining ignorant. Those who want to reach the sun must build a ladder that will not collapse as soon as a foot is on the first rung.

- Suraya Al-Shehry is a Saudi writer. She is based in Riyadh.

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